Upon arriving at the Juan Santamaria International airport of Costa Rica, the first thing you notice is the swarm of taxi drivers badgering you to throw your dollars at them.
The sad fact of the matter is most of these guys are looking to scam you out of an extra few dollars in comparison to locals.
I have personally flown into this airport multiple times, and each time I have explored alternative means of transportation. In reality, getting to your hotel or Airbnb in the center of San Jose is extremely cheap if you put in the extra effort.
I have put this guide together for those that feel daring enough to go against the grain to save yourself from a $20+ taxi ride.
Exchange your dollars!
Although pretty much anybody (aside from public buses) will accept American Dollars, you are setting yourself up to be scammed if you trust random cab drivers to give you a fair exchange rate.
There are should be multiple currency exchanges in clear view inside of the airport. Also, if you decide to purchase snacks, you may ask the store to give you change back in Colones. Cash registers in stores will calculate the fair exchange rate from USD to Colones.
Take The Bus!
For a new arrival to Costa Rica, it may not be clear where to find the public bus. You may also have fear of venturing out into the unknown, perhaps ending up in a shady neighborhood. Taxi drivers and shuttle services make a living out of your insecurity. There are public buses that are perfectly safe and comfortable just outside the airport.
As you can see, the bus stop is a very quick walk from where you exit. Once you arrive, wait for one of the large red buses that say “San Jose” at the top. Buses to the center of Heredia and Alajuela also pass by frequently. The bus drivers will only accept Colones as you board and the fare will be approximate $1 (the exact price always varies).
Take A Train!
Although a little outdated and rundown, the train system in the central valley area is one of the best ways to travel. Fortunately, the Alajuela train station is just 1 kilometer away from the airport.
If you are daring and athletic, you could try walking there. It is much more advisable to take a taxi or Uber since the traffic can get crazy on the main road. The Alajuela bus will also stop near the train station, but it is up to you to alert the driver where you want to get off.
There should be benches to wait on with other people waiting for the train. Trains will leave typically every 30 minutes. For an exact schedule, you should check out the official website of the Tren Urbano.
Once you enter the train, employees will collect your fare within a few minutes after boarding. The fare is currently 420 Colones ($0.74) and will have multiple stops in between at San Joaquin de Flores, Heredia and several barrios in San Jose. The final stop is the Estación Atlántico near the center from San Jose.
Last Resort: Taxi or Uber
Although new arrivals may not know it, taxi drivers are legally required to use a meter. Many taxi drivers will know this and will unplug meter so that they can negotiate a ridiculously high fare. Make sure to say “Usa la Maria” and point to their meter. They will get the message and oblige.
Since some taxi drivers are now rigging their meters to run at a faster rate, I prefer to take an Uber if I have the Internet available. The Uber rates are similarly priced as the local red taxis, and there are no surprises since the fare is precalculated.
Please do not fuel the scammy shuttle services like Greyline to take you to your destination. They may charge upwards of over $100 while a public bus may only be $3 or $4.
Extremely cheap buses available to travel to every corner of the country from San Jose. Once you learn how to travel like a Tico within Costa Rica, your trip will be cheaper and easier.
Since 2013, Joe decided to leave his stressful life in the United States and live as a digital nomad in South and Central America. He publishes useful articles for other fellow travelers on his website Expatriate.Space.